Thursday, June 26, 2008

Berry, Berry Good

I've been struggling with this post for about a day now. There is so much more I want to say than, "Look, we picked berries." And I've been wondering why.

Finally, I figured it was because I was trying to talk about other things and using berries as a lens or metaphor or something. And it wasn't some weird attempt to be profound, it was trying to put words to what my experience around this yearly trip is. I'm still not sure I have it right.

Our outing to the berry patch yesterday felt kind of like a pilgrimage. I was thinking about why we do this. It's a long drive, only me and two of my kids really love berries (spouse and first child loathe them), and we can only go about once per year. But the summer doesn't feel right to me without this trip, and it dawned on me that this is how you build a family's memories -- layering experiences over and over again, so that each repetition of the activity is informed and colored by the previous ones. Like fine layers of glaze building up to make luminous colors, rather than one thick blob of paint which doesn't let light through.

All of that aside, it was like the Keystone Kops getting there. While we waited for my sister to get her hair cut, the Things and cousins picked about 10 pounds of tiny plums in her back yard. A friend who was going with us was dropped off; another friend called and said she'd come and meet us.

I figured that cooking down and straining the plums was probably a good use of our time. Finally, she had about a gallon of "plum gunk." We'll make jam on our schedule that way; the rest of the week and weekend didn't look promising.

Then our friend showed up and we began the "who sits where" negotiations. I ended up with all of the (rather loud) middle aged children, while my eldest and youngest rode with my sister. I could see my big child talking, laughing and gesturing cheerily at her aunt. "At least they're having fun," I thought. Needless to say, I rarely get the incandescent side of that child these days.

On the way there, we made a total of four stops. One bathroom indoors, one bathroom outdoors. The indoors one was accompanied by coffee-purchasing. One re-buckling of a carseat, one gas. I thought, "This is what happens when you get more than two homeschoolers together. . ." and decided, quite consciously, to let go of any expectations about when we'd get there or what it would be like. This trip is just something I love, and it didn't matter how I executed it.

Finally, and it's taken me years to learn to read the road cues, we got to the farm. Loading up into their car were beloved friends, and while I would have loved time to catch up, they were done. Of course, we couldn't go right out and pick because the kids were predictably hungry.
Since we're veterans, there was food to stuff in them and, armed with insider knowledge from our departing friends, we headed to the "good end" of the patch. Some of us are more serious about picking than others. We call Thing 1"The Machine." Her brother inspires different thoughts:

Just like that, while the day was unique, the rhythm felt exactly the same as every other year. I remembered the year I made myself sick eating berries, hanging a very pregnant belly over my knees sitting on a little red wagon. I remembered the year the berries were all over 1.5" long, and the year that they didn't taste very sweet. So it was like looking at a beloved face and seeing it at different ages -- or looking at pictures of someone younger and seeing their adult face in them. Layers upon layers, all in some irrigated berry vines.

The children are getting better at picking, or at least better at picking when they want to pick. We had to remind some of the male ones not to throw berries, and Thing 2 seemed to get distracted by the cosmetic options offered by them.
I tried to make Thing 1 laugh and she dismissed my efforts.

This year, the berries aren't as large as I've seen them, but they've never tasted like this -- the best of blackberries with a tannic kick at the end. Easy to gorge instead of picking, and the organic practices of the farm make it okay that the kids do that. Someone, due to her height and total lack of impulse control, had it easy:

We kept crying out, "Make every berry count!" and coached the kids to look for "Dark, soft, big berries!"

I only wish we'd gotten one flat more. Somewhere I lost count, or we would have had one more. Tonight there will be hand pies for dessert and bagging of the frozen berries, and then the frozen ones will quietly slip into the new freezer, so that we can warm ourselves with the taste of summer no matter what time of year it is. Really, almost nothing makes me happy like this.

I was so mellowed out by the entire berry experience that when my kids asked to stop at the beach, and we were the only ones stopping, I said -- Yes! They know my Rogue Wave paranoia, but I managed to breathe and stay close to the little one and not try to notice the weird color of the sky because of the fires and how ominous that made this little gray beach seem. Instead, I watched my children shed their shoes and run at the edge of the water like gangly birds and I was so glad to be there.

I did try to distract them into a lovely little carved-out cave in the rocks away from the water, for a little bit, but when that faded, I threw seaweed as joyfully as I could and didn't think about my precious babies tumbling in the water like it. I just was there.

Until I couldn't take it any more, so one more cliff walk and we headed back home. It was a very good trip.


Pancake Goddess said...

oh, our lucky day, three beautiful stefotos in one post. Your berry day sounds wonderful.

turtlegirl76 said...

I think you did just fine capturing the day in words and pictures. It sounds like a lovely ritual.

allisonmariecat said...

Some of my best memories from childhood are things my parents dragged us to do over and over again. My dad and I planted a garden every year, and I have only good memories of that, although I'm told I used to complain every single year when it was time to plant, and also at tomato harvest time because although I liked GROWING tomatoes, I did not like EATING tomatoes. Berry picking is a ritual the Things will always, always remember.

Heather Madrone said...

Wow, Stefani, your thoughts run right along with mine.

Our family has been picking berries there for 17 or 18 years. We started when Morganne was a toddler, and have gone every year since except last year. So, as I was walking the rows with our current homeschooling group, I saw a bunch of images, click-click-click-click, of all the people over all the years we've picked berries with.

There were toddlers in our group, so I was able to remember each of my kids as toddlers, walking around with purple hands and purple mouths. There was a quiet 8-year-old, a kid who hardly ever says a word. He picked next to me for a while, keeping up a steady stream of chat. This reminded me of all the times Malcolm would open up to an adult picking berries in a way he doesn't do in ordinary social gatherings. There's something about the process that draws out the quiet kids.

So, for us, too, it's a family tradition. More than that, though, we've become attached to having berry cobblers during the coldest part of the winter. My kids all started hating them (except Alex, who also picked with us during the early years), but the cobblers have become an important part of our winter traditions.

So there it is: a tradition through the years and around the year, something that keeps us anchored in time and free from it.

And it was great to see you all, even for a few minutes in the parking lot.

suzee said...

That was just a bang-up bit of writing, so filled with images and meaning and depth. Sweet as the berries.

It's funny, this is one of the very few family outings my children now insist we do each summer. It must be done. We've added a very grown-up and expensive lunch at Duarte's, one of the priveleges of parenting just big kids, and a stint at the dog beach up from the lighthouse. But it's really all about the berries.

amanda j said...

Your photos tell such a happy story. What a wonderful day.

Anonymous said...

I just adore your blog. I love reading the stories of your family. You make me strive to be a better mother, and I mean that very sincerely. I would really love to find a good berry picking place to take my 9 year old son to and I tried clicking on the link you left in your previous post but it won't 'link'. Would you mind posting it again?

Stefaneener said...

I edited the link in the last post, and it's Swanton Berry Farm.

Good luck picking -- they're very good this year.